|NFL DRAFT: Have Panthers turned focus toward DT Dareus, QB Gabbert with No. 1 pick?|
|Written by Steve Reed|
|Thursday, 24 March 2011 08:09|
CHARLOTTE – If only Andrew Luck had decided to turn pro, life would have been so much easier for the Carolina Panthers.|
Luck certainly would have been the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, the franchise quarterback the Panthers so desperately coveted. But Luck’s decision to stay at Stanford for another year has muddied the NFL draft and, with no clear cut favorite at the top, has left experts guessing as to who the Panthers will select on April 28.
The current odds-on favorites are Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, with support dwindling for Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and virtually disappearing altogether for his college teammate defensive tackle Nick Fairley.
So who will the Panthers take?
That depends on who you ask.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has the Panthers taking Dareus to fill their second biggest team need at defensive tackle. CNNSI’s Don Banks, CBS Sportsline’s Rob Rang and McShay’s cohort at ESPN Mel Kiper Jr. all have the Panthers taking Gabbert over Newton to fill their glaring need at quarterback. That leaves the folks at NewNFLdraft.com, who still think they'll take Newton, in the minority.
Some others websites list LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, Clemson defensive end DaQuan Bowers or Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green as the best available player in the draft, although it’s hard to find anyone bold enough to pick them first overall in a mock draft.
Obviously, the Panthers aren't giving any hints as to who they'll select.
The big question becomes this: Are the Panthers set on taking a quarterback at No. 1 regardless, and if so, will it be Gabbert or Newton?
McShay said if the Panthers go the quarterback route then Gabbert is “the only quarterback in this class that I would draft in the top 10.”
However, he’s not convinced the Panthers will take him No. 1.
“I don’t think there’s a Matt Ryan or a Sam Bradford in this class,” McShay said referring to two young budding quarterback stars in the NFL. “At the time they came out, I had very little doubt… they were ready mentally and physically to contribute in the NFL and could handle everything that went on and were prepared to do so from a scheme standpoint to a technique standpoint, along with having the overall mechanics.”
As much as he likes Gabbert, McShay can’t say the same about him.
He simply doesn’t think Gabbert is ready to step in and start right away after playing in a spread offense at Missouri.
He said the best thing for Gabbert might be sitting and watching for a year, something the Panthers may not be willing to allow him to do after last year’s 2-14 debacle with Jimmy Clausen and Matt Moore under center.
“I think we have to take a step back from the last few years and go back to the old mentality of maybe sitting a guy for a year and developing him,” McShay said. “Blaine Gabbert comes from a system that doesn’t translate perfectly to the NFL.
“He has shown he can take drops and has the footwork, but he has to become more consistent throwing the ball down the field and I think there will be a learning curve coming from that system to the NFL. But does he have it? Absolutely. I think he has it mentally and I think he has a work ethic and most importantly he’s accurate enough to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.”
Gabbert has skyrocketed up many draft boards in the last month-and-a-half after a strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combines and at his Pro Day workout.
But McShay believes Dareus is better suited to step in and contribute right away for the Panthers, which is why he has the 6-foot-4, 306-pounder going first overall in his mock draft.
“If you watch him every down and the versatility he provides, I just think he has a chance to be special, a chance to be dominant on first and second down and also has a chance to provide enough pass rush as an every down player, as long as he’s fresh,” McShay said. “If Dareus is the first overall pick I think Carolina has made the right decision. And if he doesn’t go first I will be shocked if he’s still on the board when we get to pick number four.”
That begs the question of what happened to Fairley, considered just a couple of months ago to be Carolina’s likely top pick?
While McShay said Fairley has “phenomenal feet and athletic ability,” he thinks the risk associated with him is too high for the No. 1 pick.
“He has a chance to be the best interior pass rusher from this class, but the problem is he also has a chance to be a bust if I’m going to be put it bluntly,” McShay said.
McShay said he doesn’t envy Carolina’s position at the top of the draft board, especially given their obvious need at quarterback but selecting in a draft without a sure thing at that position.
“It’s always tough,” McShay said. “When you’re the Rams and you’re sitting there at No. 1 and you have a Sam Bradford on the board you have to do all of the work and make sure he’s the guy. But once you’ve made that decision a week before the draft, the pressure is off. You move on from there. There are a lot of good players in this draft, but I would rather be picking at number three or four than number one or two.”
With a rookie scale likely to be imposed this season Carolina won’t have as big of a financial commitment to the first overall pick as teams in the past have had, thus limiting the risk factor.
Last year, Bradford commanded a contract that paid him $50 million guaranteed.
This year, the top pick is expected to make much less once a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is in place.
“There are a lot of ways (the Panthers) can go but ultimately I think Dareus being one of the elite players in this draft and having the need they have at defensive tackle, he makes the most sense,” McShay said.